Lycan’s Four Objections to Substance Dualism

This is from Lycan’s contributions to the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy (“Philosophy of Mind”):

1. Immaterial minds do not fit with the emerging picture of the physical world. Science keeps peering further into the nature of previously mysterious areas and gives us a causal account of things explicable in terms of physical goings-on.

I have to admit that, although we are left without a specific objection here, this one probably makes the dualist quiver the most. It was a combination of this kind of objection coupled with the arguments for the non-identity of mental states to brain-states that drove me into the arms of Emergent Dualism. However, this objection ought not to level anyone’s belief about the mind as long as they have significant reasons for rejecting reductionistic accounts.

2. Evolution would’ve had to produce immaterial minds somewhere along the lines of our lineage which seems improbable/inexplicable. How and when would this have happened?

Actually, I would extend this objection to non-dualists as well- why in the world did nature suddenly produce and select consciousness? Isn’t that something just as mysterious? Unless naturalists can provide a reason for the existence of consciousness, they are left gasping for explanation. Further, most dualists are not just dualists about philosophy of mind but of explanations as well. To elaborate a bit, we explain phenomena not just in terms of physical laws (of selection, genetics and neurobiology, for instance) but of teleology. Nature and her laws are here to produce some kind of effect; namely, consciousness. Therefore, we will not exhaust an explanation of the mind by recourse to physical history of biological entities (even though such a history is important).

3. How can minds interact in space-time if they are immaterial?

One can then ask, how does matter interact with other matter? What is causation, and what exactly allows the causal relation between physical entities? The point being, there is no formal contradiction in saying that immaterial minds and material bodies interact with each other. It may be mysterious, but no more mysterious than the nature of causation or physical relations.

4. There must be some kind of exchange of energy if the mind is to interact with the body (laws of conservation and so on).

To be honest, I don’t get this objection. We do not understand the mind very much at all yet, so it is difficult to speak with any kind of force to this issue. There are possible answers to this questions, however. There could be some kind of psychic energy (which I think has been put forward by John Eccles), or perhaps “holes” in the laws of conservation via Quantum Mechanics, or maybe we do not live in a closed system and so the mind would introduce new “energy” into our system without violating said laws. Further, our thinking on the matter may be entirely egregious at the moment considering our vastly small understanding of the physical world. In other words, I take a wait-and-see approach with this last objection.

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7 Comments on “Lycan’s Four Objections to Substance Dualism”

  1. Why in the world did nature suddenly produce and select consciousness?

    It’s badly formatted, but see if you can wade through Daniel Dennett’s paper, titled Are we explaining consciousness yet? It takes a bit of a run-up, but it’s worth it. I reccomend copying it into word, formatting it nicely, then printing it out.

    His idea is that consciousness is more like fame than television. He describes consciousness as the flow of control between different functional components within the computational system of the human brain. He does this by describing the brain in terms of Maximally Bland Computationalism – the idea that the brain is nothing more than a particularly elegant kind of computer. His article is a very interesting read.

    However, it doesn’t exactly give an evolutionary basis for the evolution of such a system… Here’s one such possible explanation for why brains good enough to allow for Dennett’s computational model might have evolved in the first place. There are other explanations, but I’ll use this one by the virtue of it being one of the simplest.

    It is suggested that the brain is merely a computational network that just so happens to be expressed organically (Maximally Bland Computationalism). It’s initial evolved function was to compute, based on memory and sensory input, what the organisim should do next so as to optimize its chances of survival. Once the capacity for deception was evolved, it became a runaway arms race between one human and the next – the human that is the most deceptive, and that is the best at defending against being harmed by means of deception, is more likely to survive and reproduce than the others. It’s suggested that this Machiavellian evolution is responsible for the development of such disproportionately large and costly human brains. There are other ideas, but they go along similar lines to this one – that primates first evolved brains to compete with other animals, but once they had them it became neccesary to compete, brain against brain, with other primates – and it is the competition between primates that resulted in the impressive brainpower of humans.

    This has actually been offered to explain the demise of some of the close evolutionary cousins of humans. Big brains are costly. They suck up about 20% of the body’s energy and only account for about 2% of its mass. It takes a long time for brains to finish growing – early childhood brains are still relatively under-developed. It takes a long time for young brains to really come to grips with the world around them. And big brains make childbirth really, really difficult.

    With all these penalties, it has been suggested that other primates with big brains died out because the size of their brains became so large that they lost the ability to reproduce, or survive to the point of reproduction – but that if their brains got any smaller, they would have lost the ability to compete with other primates of their species in terms of getting themselves a mate. In the case of our extinct cousins, large brains may have been an evolutionary dead end – it is fortunate for us that in the case of humans, it was not.

    Blech…. I was gonna go on, but that’s enough for now. Looking forward to your response.

  2. insomniac Says:

    Howdy Josh,

    I’m pondering the same kinds of stuff at my place. Here’s part of my post for today…

    How can it be? How can the Universe be both material and ethereal at the same time? This is a fundamental question being asked over in over in blogs, on message boards, street corners and cafes. It is the single argument with so many different manifestations. Particle or wave, fact or fantasy, mind or matter, determinism or free will all stem from the same question. How can it be both?

    Easy; it is all in how you look at it. The Universe consists of matter, energy and information. If you look at the matter by itself, it seems solid enough. If you look at energy by itself, the Universe looks chaotic, random and very hot or cold. If you look at the information by itself, the Universe becomes a phantom history of the doings of solid things amid chaos. Our Universe consists of all three. Considered together our Universe becomes less solid, less chaotic and more rational.

    Is it solid or is it imaginary? Both! The Universe is solid, but dynamic, made out of energy and therefore not so solid over time. The interaction of matter and energy over time produce information in the form of an active memory. The Universe isn’t imaginary, but it has an active imagination.


  3. John Valley Says:

    I’ve looked at some of these problems on my own blog. Most of these objections result from trying to shoehorn a dualistic theory into a monist-materialist framework. Not everything involves energy and particles, hm? But to be brief, the problem lies at the very core of the scientific paradigm being used to object to mind-body dualism: How does science account for natural laws controlling matter and energy? What is the mechanism? If there isn’t any, why are people wasting their time trying to find them? Where is the logic in this?

    I just say mind affects matter in the way logic regulates it.

    By the way, nice page

  4. […] Now, it probably isn’t a secret that I am fundamentally opposed to Dennett’s proposal. It is doubly fair to qualify the following to be in response to this question: Why in the world did nature suddenly produce and select consciousness? (Context here) […]

  5. Have you seen this piece by Lycan himself? Apparently he is thinks the case against dualism is rather overrated.

    Also, I answered Lycan’s four objections to dualism in my essay “Some Supernatural Reasons Why My Critics are Wrong: A Reply to Drange, Parsons and Hasker” in Vol 5, no. 1, (2003), in response to Keith Parsons’ use of those arguments against me in his rebuttal to the Argument from Reason.

  6. Josh Says:

    I have that volume of Philosophia Christi, Vic, so I’ll be sure to check it out.

  7. I put that passage on both my blogs.

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